Destiny 2's Trials is being strangled by cheaters

(Image credit: Bungie)

"Oh god, it's Frostbolt. We're playing Frostbolt." The unwelcome news that we were about to face one of Destiny 2's preeminent PvP players was delivered by my teammate as we loaded into my first Trials match of the season. For the uninitiated, Trials of Osiris is Destiny 2's endgame PvP mode. The format is 3v3 elimination, best-of-five rounds, on a single map that rotates weekly. 

Rewards increase depending on how many matches you win, up to a maximum of seven, but lose three times and you're done. The mode is only available between the Friday and Tuesday resets, which serves to make it feel special and emphasises the idea that it's a way for friends to have fun and blow off some competitive steam together. 

Playing Frostbolt was not fun. It was a humbling object lesson in just how good players can get at this game, particularly those who make a living from it. On his YouTube channel, Frostbolt comes across as an absolute sweetheart—a perma-smiling teddy bear of a man who used to introduce himself as 'Frosty the snowman'. With barely-needed help from his equally-skilled clanmate, ZkMushroom, we got an absolute paddling. The pair were perpetual motion machines, sliding around corners popping headshots as they crushed us with rapid pincer moves.

(Image credit: Bungie)

My teammates, both of whom are more experienced Trials players, were delighted to each kill Frostbolt once. (Something to tell the grandkids.) Though we managed to snag a round, I ended the match without a kill and feeling shell-shocked. 

Our second match was against another good team and also a loss, but it was closer and I started to make some plays. For context: I am a bang average PvPer, barely keeping my head above water with a 1.04 K/D. I tend to dip into PvP transactionally rather than for fun, which is to say I'll do Rumble and Iron Banner when I need the Pinnacle power rewards or particularly like the look of the gear.

Cheaters prosper

Which is what brought me into Trials this weekend. With the Beyond Light expansion now delayed to November 10, the current crop of seasonal content is being stretched thinner than my hairline. The Egyptian-themed Trials armor is gorgeous (see top), and with the chest piece available at three wins, plus a Triumph to unlock from winning five matches that's needed for this season's title, now seemed as good a time as any. 

Happily, our next few matches went better. We started facing teams of a similar-ish skill level, and even dominated some of them. From being a total liability I started to at least be some help, even picking up a couple of three-pieces (Destiny slang for rapidly killing all three opponents) along the way. As our confidence grew so did the camaraderie—calling out positions, encouraging each other to push opponents, and congratulating each other on clutch kill shots. Readers, I was having fun.

Once cheating is rife it poisons the groundwell for all players, including the legitimately brilliant ones.

And then not so much. On both cards we played the same thing happened after hitting the four-win mark. We would be comfortably ahead and then something would change. Suddenly teams which hadn't been able to hit the side of a cruise ship would start nailing Hall of Fame sniper shots. And not just once: every single time. Suspicions raised, my teammates would check our opponents' stats on sites like Trials Report, looking for evidence of cheating. The usual giveaway being a sniper rifle headshot percentage in the 90s despite otherwise average historic performance.

Before long we would joke that "they've pressed the button" whenever we felt like we were getting domed by unfeasibly good snipes. The button of course being one of the various aimbot programs that blight Destiny 2's PvP. At this point you are of course free to note that, hey, maybe this is salt and our opponents were simply that good. But that's partly my point. Once cheating is rife in a PvP scene—and there's little argument that it is in Destiny 2—it poisons the groundwell for all players, including the legitimately brilliant ones. Because even when you're beaten by brilliance, the doubt creeps in. Maybe they were cheating? That sucks the fun out of a mode like Trials fast.

Pay to play?

Don't take my word for it though. I've watched multiple videos from PvP-focused content craters who can't believe how bad the cheating has become. Check out one below from Aztecross, who's normally upbeat to a fault, but has been left despairing at how flagrant the cheating has become. 

The last time Bungie spoke at length about cheating was on April 23 in the This Week at Bungie blog. Engineering director David Aldridge addressed DDOSing, aimbots, wall hacking, lag switching, and rejected the notion that the game doesn't have anti-cheat. "Destiny does utilize some of VAC's security features, and we have plans to utilize more," he wrote. "Bungie's security team and Valve's security team meet regularly to discuss the latest attacks and mitigations." 

That may be so, but from a player perspective cheating in PvP has seemed notably more widespread since Destiny 2 swapped for Steam. What's particularly galling is that it feels easy for us to identify when something's up with our opponents, so why isn't Bungie's system finding them?

We may have made a mistake in not having Trials behind the Season Pass paywall.

—David Aldridge, Engineering Director

In the same post there was also discussion about creating barriers to entry, such as a prerequisite Trials quest or even a paid element, to stop smurf accounts being used by cheaters to carry teams to flawless cards. "We may have made a mistake in not having Trials behind the Season Pass paywall, which would have created more friction against free-account-recycling cheaters," said Aldridge. Carries have always been part of the Trials scene—on console I was carried to flawless by a grumpy Dutchman and a schoolboy—because whenever Destiny has desirable but exclusive rewards, you will find people willing to pay for them.

By the time we finished our cards, I'd acquired three of the fancy chest pieces I came for. I left feeling not unhappy but a little deflated that the experience—which had felt thrilling in places—was ultimately soured by the knowledge we had faced players we had next to no chance of beating because they were able to toggle an insta-win button. I haven't played enough Trials to know whether the mode can be saved, but Bungie desperately needs to communicate exactly what its next steps to combat cheaters are. Otherwise, it won't just be Trials at risk, but the integrity of the whole PvP scene.

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.